You are the company fixer who is there to support and enable business, manage legal matters and help keep risk under control. But often in-house lawyers are regarded as an obstacle, an unwelcome cost, something that AI can replace (see our blog Can I use AI instead of a lawyer?), only useful when something has gone very wrong or something urgent is needed – in which case your contribution is often under-estimated (e.g. “Hi this contract needs to be signed today please give it a once over and confirm it’s ok asap”.)
It doesn’t matter how hard you work, if your role and contribution is misunderstood (or worse, invisible), you’ll be under appreciated, under rewarded and under promoted. So, what can in-house counsel do to demonstrate the considerable value they bring and ensure they get the credit they deserve?
You need to make sure colleagues understand what you do (and don’t do) and why. Don’t be embarrassed to blow your own trumpet about the ways in which you help the business (including revenue generation work, saving costs, etc.) and empower it to succeed. But also make sure colleagues understand your role. Don’t expect them to just know, particularly if they haven’t worked with a good in-house lawyer before or had much exposure to ‘legal’.
Show how you are helping advance business goals and strategy:
Regular internal reporting shouldn’t be regarded as a chore but as an important opportunity to demonstrate your value. Even if no one has asked you to report on your activity, be proactive in putting a report together and circulating it. Presenting a lengthy list of legal matters you’re working on doesn’t help anyone understand your impact. Show the link between the priorities of the business and your efforts, how does your contribution enable goals to be realised? Demonstrating the quality of your input, for example by speeding up deal closure, reducing costs, risk/liability, etc., is better than simply saying you’re doing a lot of things!
Make sure the business understands what you do:
It’s crucial to make sure your colleagues understand what you do to help them, and what you don’t/shouldn’t do. For example, if you support the sales team with their contracts, ensure you have a process and stick to it. Make sure they understand your resourcing and how you need to do what’s best for the business, not just the person that shouts loudest/ is the most persuasive. Rather than responding to every request and being constantly ‘stuck in the weeds’, use a risk ’heat map’ to explain to colleagues when contracts/ legal issues might need more or less ‘legal’ and implement self-help processes to take small things off your plate (templates, when to use AI/an internet search, etc).
Talk in a language the business will understand:
Everyone is busy, so make it easy for colleagues by presenting important information visually using, graphics, charts and dashboards. Where you do need to use text keep it short and snappy (TL:DR) and limited to headlines. No-one wants an essay on the law. Nor do they want every single option. Give limited options with likely outcomes, associated risks, costs etc. and be prepared to make decisions.
Get involved in staff induction and training:
This helps people understand your role, how they can get the best out of you and vice versa. Being part of staff induction helps educate and set expectations for the legal team at the start. Being part of ongoing training keeps you visible to staff and helps reiterate how you can/should be involved in what they do and when they should use other staff/self-help instead.
The bottom-line matters, businesses are ruled by the numbers so the legal team needs to have key metrics as well. Not only does this show accountability it can also help demonstrate continuous improvement that might otherwise be hard to show. It can be difficult to know how to apply a meaningful quantitative approach to in-house legal work so ask the business what they would like to see. Frame legal work in terms of contract values, transaction values, risk eliminated (in monetary terms) etc. You need to accept that you can’t do everything perfectly with zero risk, so focus on what’s important and ensure you stick to your budget, or be ready with a business case if you need more.
If you’re an experienced in-house lawyer considering making the move to a more flexible position but want to ensure quality work and interesting clients we’d love to have a chat. Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org